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NFL hires former U.S. attorney, SEC chair to investigate Daniel Snyder and Commanders

The NFL hired Mary Jo White, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, to conduct its investigation of the latest sexual harassment allegations against the Washington Commanders and Daniel Snyder. (Paul Vernon/AP)
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The NFL hired attorney Mary Jo White to conduct its investigation of the latest sexual harassment allegations against the Washington Commanders and their owner, Daniel Snyder.

White’s findings will be made public at the conclusion of her investigation, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will determine whether the league will take any further disciplinary action, the NFL said Friday through a spokesman.

The league confirmed the selection of White, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, after informing the House Committee on Oversight and Reform that she would lead the investigation.

White led the NFL’s investigation of allegations of workplace misconduct against former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. Her investigation concluded there was no information to discredit the claims made against Richardson. The NFL fined Richardson $2.75 million in 2018, and he sold the franchise to David Tepper.

White’s investigation of Snyder and the Commanders will focus on allegations made during a congressional roundtable Feb. 3. Tiffani Johnston, a former cheerleader and marketing manager for the team, told members of Congress that Snyder harassed her at a team dinner, putting his hand on her thigh and pressing her toward his limo. Snyder denied the accusations, calling the allegations made directly against him “outright lies.”

“The Washington Commanders are pleased that the NFL has appointed Mary Jo White to look into the recent allegations made by Tiffani Johnston,” the team said Friday in a statement. “The Commanders have always been intent on having a full and fair investigation of this matter conducted, and to releasing the results of that investigation. Given the Team’s confidence in Ms. White’s ability to conduct such a full and fair investigation, the Commanders will not separately pursue an investigation, and will cooperate fully with Ms. White.”

NFL tells Congress that Commanders are blocking access to documents from workplace probe

The committee declined to comment Friday through a spokesperson.

Johnston was among six former employees who appeared on Capitol Hill during the roundtable to tell lawmakers about their experiences working for the team as the panel investigates its workplace culture and the NFL’s handling of allegations of pervasive sexual misconduct at the franchise. The committee has continued to press the league for documents and information related to the previous investigation of the team’s workplace conducted by D.C. attorney Beth Wilkinson.

Lisa Banks, an attorney representing many former team employees, said Friday that Wilkinson had “earned the trust of dozens of victims and witnesses who provided her with evidence of pervasive sexual harassment and abuse” during the previous investigation. Banks said in a statement that she and her clients had “understood that Ms. Wilkinson would also conduct the investigation into Tiffani Johnston’s allegations … given her unique knowledge of the Commanders organization, its culture of sexual harassment, and Dan Snyder’s credibility.”

Banks said that hiring “a new investigator, with no such prior knowledge, . . . makes no sense at all.” But she said she would have discussions with Johnston about her willingness to participate in the new investigation, adding that she and her clients “are pleased that the NFL has agreed to make the results public” and hope the same is done with the findings of Wilkinson’s investigation.

The NFL considered Johnston’s accusations made during the roundtable to be new allegations — worthy of a new investigation and, potentially, additional disciplinary measures — because Johnston had declined to participate in Wilkinson’s investigation, a person familiar with the matter said when the new claims emerged.

In that case, the NFL told Wilkinson not to submit a written report and did not publicly release her findings, leading to criticism by former team employees and other observers. Goodell and the league said they took that approach to avoid violating promises of confidentiality made to some witnesses who spoke to Wilkinson.

In sharp rebuke, NFL plans independent probe of sexual misconduct allegations against Daniel Snyder

The NFL intends to make the findings of White’s investigation public in this case, the league said through a spokesman, because the allegations were made by individuals in a public forum, with no expectation of anonymity for witnesses.

White is a partner in the New York office of law firm Debevoise & Plimpton. She represented members of the Sackler family that controls Purdue Pharma, the company that developed and marketed the painkiller OxyContin. Purdue and other opioid makers and distributors faced lawsuits by county, state and city officials citing prescription opiates for a drug-abuse epidemic. In December, a federal judge overturned an approximately $4.5 billion settlement that granted family members legal protection from future opioid litigation.

White also was among Goodell’s advisers in a case in which Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was suspended for six games under the personal conduct policy in 2017. She assisted the league in its investigation in 2012 of the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program.

In the Richardson case, the NFL took over the investigation from the Panthers after Sports Illustrated reported that four former team employees received significant financial settlements — accompanied by nondisclosure agreements — following allegations of inappropriate behavior and comments by Richardson. Those accusations included claims of sexually suggestive remarks and acts and a reported incident in which Richardson directed a racial slur at a Black employee.

Last week, the Commanders initially announced that they would investigate the latest allegations arising from the Capitol Hill roundtable. Later that day, the NFL said the league — not the team — would conduct the investigation. Goodell said in Inglewood, Calif., at his annual news conference during Super Bowl week that it would not have been proper for the team to investigate itself.

The league also said in a letter last week to the House committee that the Commanders were denying access to approximately 109,000 documents related to Wilkinson’s investigation. The team denied the allegation. Jordan Siev, an attorney for Snyder, said in a statement that the Commanders “have never prevented the NFL from obtaining any non-privileged documents and will not do so in the future.”

Following Wilkinson’s investigation, the NFL announced in July that the team had been fined $10 million and that Snyder’s wife, Tanya, the team’s co-CEO, would assume responsibilities for the franchise’s day-to-day operations for an unspecified period.

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